Week 2 Round-Up

This week we have had the students rotating through even more jobs than last week! In addition to finds washing and sorting and digging crews, we designated teams to work on environmental processing and the massive finds database we are building.

Environmental processing is explained further here, but it is a method of recovering extremely small organic material like charred seeds by agitating soil gently while water flows through it.

The most talked-about find in the environmental sample was a large crinoid! Crinoids are sea lilies (related to starfish and urchins), which first appeared on earth 300 million years BEFORE the dinosaurs. There are still extant species today! During the medieval period, the bits of their stem column worked as natural beads, because often they are found with a round or star-shaped hole in the centre. Locally, they are known as “Saint Cuthbert’s beads.” If we find any more, we will for sure do an in-depth post on them!

Crinoid fossil.

In the castle’s labyrinthine lower levels, we worked on updating and reconciling data in our finds archives and confirming shelf-marks. Boxes of interesting finds were opened, reassessed, passed around, and discussed while doing this archival work. We even found material that was discovered, recorded, and bagged by Constance and Lauren back when they were new staff in 2013!

During finds washing and sorting of early medieval contexts, several pieces of worked bone were discovered, including what looks like a toggle. We also had an strange tooth that was possibly worked which at first looked like bear, but it may actually have belonged to a seal. Wild bear (as opposed to imported bear) extinction is hard to date, as no one agrees what part of the medieval period they disappear, but seals are still present around the Farne Islands visible from the castle.

In the trenches, digging slowed down aside from the removal of the rubble in the two chambers split by the masonry-and-brick stacked walls. The arch has been further revealed!

Revealing the arch.

We have also begun to shore up walls and ground surfaces to prepare for the removal of the massive bits of rubble. Hard hats are now required in the rubble areas.

The trench team started recording the masonry via photograph and then via plan. Photographs are taken on a digital DSLR camera in colour, and each is recorded in a catalogue. We use large poles as scales to represent up to two metres!

Photographing each wall face.

Planning involves drawing the features and contexts in the trench to scale. What’s great about planning is that you don’t need to be a great artist to do it; when you use a planning frame like pictured below, you simply have to copy each square of the frame into a set of boxes on the grid paper. It’s like in colouring books, where you have to move a picture from the left-hand page into empty boxes on the right-hand page.

All smiles when planning.

We hope to clear more rubble out next week once everything is recorded thus far!

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